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Surgeon General warns about e-cigarette use

E-cigarettes are devices that typically deliver nicotine, flavorings and other additives to users via an inhaled aerosol. (Forum News Service)

Nicotine, in any amount, is harmful to youth — even if it's the nicotine found in e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are defined as devices that typically deliver nicotine, flavorings and other additives to users via an inhaled aerosol. The devices are often referred to as e-cigs, e-hookahs, mods, vape pens, vapes or tank systems.

According to a new report from the Surgeon General's office, nicotine is highly addictive and nicotine exposure during adolescence can cause addiction and can harm the developing adolescent brain. And that includes the nicotine found in e-cigarettes, the use of which is on the rise. Damaging, long-term effects may have implications for learning, memory, attention, behavior problems and future addiction.

"This report provides tobacco prevention educators with credible information to continue to deliver the message to the community that e-cigarettes are a dangerous product," said Amy Reineke, a health educator with Horizon Public Health. "And we need to continue to have conversations, especially with youth who are so impressionable."

Although the information in the new report doesn't surprise Reineke, she said it continues to drive the importance about good public health education on the dangers of not only tobacco use, but also the dangers of e-cigarettes.

Youth and young adults alike cited the reasons for using e-cigarettes instead of "regular" cigarettes were curiosity, flavoring and/or taste and low perceived harm compared to other tobacco products, according to the Surgeon General's report.

Furthermore, the report stated that youths' use of nicotine in any form is unsafe and that secondary aerosol exhaled into the air by e-cigarette users can expose others to potentially harmful chemicals. In addition, ingestion of e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine can cause acute toxicity and possibly death if the contents of refill cartridges or bottles containing nicotine are consumed, according to the surgeon general.

The 28-page executive summary report stated that e-cigarette use among youth and young adults has become a public health concern. Current use of e-cigarettes by young adults ages 18-24 surpassed that of adults 25 years of age and older.

Among middle school and high school students, e-cigarette use has more than tripled since 2011 and the use by adults 18-24 years of age has more than doubled, according to the report.

Reineke said that Minnesota is ahead of the curve in warning its citizens about the harmful effects of e-cigarette use. In 2015, she said, the Minnesota Department of Health issued its Health Advisory on the Risk of Nicotine for Children and Adolescents. The advisory was issued as a response to the alarming data from the 2016 Minnesota Student Survey, which showed concerning increases among Minnesota youth. The survey is conducted anonymously every three years for students in fifth, eighth, ninth and 11th grades.

Although the use of actual cigarettes and smoking fell dramatically among ninth and 11th graders, said Reineke, there unfortunately was a dramatic increase in the number of students opting to use e-cigarettes. Survey data showed that 15 percent of 11th graders in West Central Minnesota used e-cigarettes, which is more than double the use of regular cigarettes.

Public Health has been working on many different initiatives, such as tobacco-free housing, educational campaigns with local schools and collaborating with local municipalities to ensure there are updated ordinances to prevent underage sales.

Reineke said with this new information from the Surgeon General, parents should take the opportunity to talk to their kids about tobacco and e-cigarette use.

"It's important to know the facts and have credible information," she said. "Be patient and ready to listen and answer their questions. And most importantly, set a positive example and lead a tobacco/e-cigarette free lifestyle."

Actions to take

According to the Surgeon General's report, action can be taken to address e-cigarette use among youth and young adults, not only at the national level, but state, tribal, territorial and local level. Actions include:

• Incorporating e-cigarettes into smokefree policies.

• Preventing access to e-cigarettes by youth.

• Price and tax policies.

• Retail licensure.

• Regulation of e-cigarette marketing likely to attract youth and educational initiatives targeting youth and young adults.

Just the basics

E-cigarettes are devices that heat a liquid into an aerosol that the user then inhales. The liquid usually has nicotine and flavoring in it, as well as other additives. The nicotine in both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is addictive. E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most of them contain nicotine, which comes from tobacco. Besides nicotine, e-cigarettes contain other harmful and potentially harmful ingredients including the following:

• Ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs.

• Flavorants such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease.

• Volatile organic compounds.

• Heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead.

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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